The situation for many of the world’s species, including megafauna such as elephants, rhinos, and tigers, appears increasingly bleak. The alarming decline of many of these iconic species has been well documented. The plight of the planet’s elephant populations, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, has been especially hard-hit as a result of illegal hunting and human encroachment on their habitat. Rhino populations have also been decimated, particularly as a result of poaching. Now giraffes are in increasing and serious danger of becoming extinct.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has recently classified giraffes as “vulnerable to extinction” on its “Red List.” The wild population of giraffes has declined by nearly 40 % over the last 30 years, a decrease precipitated largely by habitat loss, illegal hunting, and the impact of civil wars.
The IUCN’s Red List assesses the conservation status of species all over the word. Based on scientific analysis, the Red List categorises and highlights species that are:
- Extinct in the wild
- Critically endangered
- Near threatened
- Least concern
This is a system of categorisation that resembles those employed in species at risk statutes in various Canadian jurisdictions. These statutes are generally designed to implement Canada’s international obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity and to otherwise protect biodiversity.
For example, Ontario’s Endangered Species Act (ESA) provides legal protection to the province’s species on the basis of how an independent panel of experts—the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO)—has classified them. Similar to those used by the IUCN, the categories employed by COSSARO are:
- Extinct (no longer lives anywhere in the world)
- Extirpated (no longer lives in the wild in Ontario, though it once did, but lives somewhere else in the world)
- Endangered (lives in the wild in Ontario but is under immanent threat of extirpation or extinction)
- Threatened (lives in the wild in Ontario, but is likely to become endangered)
- Special concern (lives in the wild in Ontario, but may become threatened or endangered)
A similar regime and classification system is found in the federal equivalent of the ESA, the Species at Risk Act.
The inclusion of the giraffe on the Red List comes as a surprise, even to many experts. While international attention has been focused on species such as sharks, elephants, and gorillas, the giraffe has unfortunately been enduring a “silent extinction” over the past several decades.